In 1958, she moved from her small Pennsylvania hometown to the Home for Working Girls at 101 North Carolina Avenue SE. Run by Catholic nuns, St. Catherine's rented rooms and provided meals to young women like Charlene who came to DC to work for the federal government. In her interview, she talks of her delight in seeing the Capitol dome from her new home, the wonderful friends she met there, and the fun they had exploring DC together. A year later, she moved to a frame house in the 300 block of First Street SE where a flap of wallpaper could be lifted to view signatures left by people confined there during the Civil War. Today, the Republican National Committee building occupies that site.
Interview with Charlene Patton
Interview Date: October 17, 2022
Interviewer: Bernadette McMahon
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Bernadette McMahon
START OF INTERVIEW
MCMAHON: This is Bernadette McMahon and I am interviewing Charlene Patton for the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol [Hill] History Project. Today is October 17, 2022. I’m in Washington, D.C., and Charlene is in Daytona Beach, Florida. So, we are doing this interview by Zoom and we’re recording it using Zoom. Charlene, why don’t you tell me where you came from originally.
PATTON: My birthplace was in Pennsylvania, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, in 1937. But I promised myself when I got old enough to move from there because—I loved my town, but I found that it was very boring. [Interviewer laughs] Small town life was not for me. So, I decided in 1958 to pick up my bags and move to Washington, D.C. But I had to have a place to live. So, the first thing I did was call my parish priest to find out if there was a place he knew for working girls, like the YWCA, the YMCA sort of thing. And he told me St. Catherine’s Convent. Well, I was intrigued. I had not expected to rent in a convent. Well, it wasn’t really a convent; it was their residences. [Interviewer sneezes] So, it turned out that I arrived on a Sunday night about 10:00 and the Cap[itol]—I still remember that first night the Capitol dome being lit up and here I am from Beaver Falls looking at the U.S. Capitol. Because St. Catherine’s is at 101 North Carolina Avenue SE, right blocks down from the Capitol. So, we were right where I could look out the window and see. And then it caught my attention—sirens. I had never gone to bed and heard sirens, police sirens. All night, all night. [Laughs] So, I thought, this is going to not disappoint me. [Laughs] And it didn’t. So …
MCMAHON: Did you have a job before you came here?
PATTON: Yeah. Oh, of course, yes. I had a job at the Pentagon. So, I had to, Sunday night, 10:00, find out—and this was before [indecipherable] or computers—how do I get from here, from Capitol Hill, to the Pentagon. So, I found out in the morning by asking. I went to the bus stop and I asked, how do I get to the Pentagon? Well, people are very kind. So, they said we’ll tell you what bus to get on. So, they said you get on this bus. And then we switched busses down at the Old Post Office. [indecipherable]We either took a trolley car from Pennsylvania or a bus from behind our building. So, …
MCMAHON: That bus behind your building, was that on E Street?
PATTON: No, that was on—North Carolina was in the front. So, it would have been maybe E. I don’t know what street it was. But, one of the letter streets.
MCMAHON: Okay. It would have been E then.
PATTON: Yeah. So, I got the bus, switched, got to the Pentagon on time. So, then, two big problems. How do I get to St. Catherine’s, how do I get to the Pentagon. So, my life is getting easier. So, I stayed there. That was in 1958.
MCMAHON: Had you just finished high school then?
PATTON: No, I finished in ’55.
MCMAHON: I see.
PATTON: But I had chosen not to go to college, absolutely not to go. And I did have a scholarship to go to Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania. [Laughs] I laugh because of all the football scores they give during the season, they always give Slippery Rock. Just as a throwaway. So, because …
MCMAHON: People like that name.
PATTON: Yes, interesting name. But I chose not—I knew I did not want to go to college. I wanted to hit the road and get working right away.
MCMAHON: It took you a few more years to get to Washington.
PATTON: Yes, to get up the—how am I going to do this? Because back then we didn’t depend on mom and dad to do things for us. I mean, they just, you know, you’re 18 now, you’re on your own. [Laughs] But it was a very interesting—Got there and then met a lot of very, very nice women there that were in the same boat as I am. They came from different— One came from Manhattan, of all places. When we would be out together everyone assumed I was from Manhattan and she was from Beaver Falls. She was a very timid, quiet lady. [Both laugh]
MCMAHON: Well, tell me more about St. Catherine’s, because this is what started our whole connection to one another.
PATTON: Right. St. Catherine’s—nobody had ever heard of it before in my time. In fact, we got to where we would—That age of rock and roll, we used to go down to 16th Street in Washington where all the night life was. And we were not big party girls. We just wanted to get out of the convent. So, I told the group, said let’s not tell them we’re from the convent. We’ll just say we’re from St. Catherine’s Home for Wayward Girls. [Both laugh] And it stuck. It stuck. Long before we all moved out. But that way it gave us a little spice to our life. [Laughs]
MCMAHON: Well, I’ve heard that officially it was [named] a Home for Working Girls.
PATTON: Yeah, but we did not know this [?].
MCMAHON: You turned it into wayward girls.
PATTON: We did. And I had never heard, until you mentioned it, a home for working girls. Because that’s exactly what it was. And we had interesting—One worked for Vice President Nixon, one worked for a Minnesota Senator. Different girls from different parts of the country. So, we were an interesting mix.
MCMAHON: And who ran the convent there? I understand it had a history with Providence Hospital.
PATTON: Yes, Providence Hospital was a block up, where Providence Park is now. And I don’t remember it being an empty lot. But I didn’t pay much attention. We used to walk up to Second Street to go to mass at St. Peter’s Church. But the nuns who ran the hospital, Providence Hospital, were the nuns that had the convent that we lived in. So, they were—They also had, interestingly enough, women from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital that would live there, too. And we used to entertain them. We’d take them—do their hair, teach them to dance, and whatever we were doing the girls who lived there would take the women from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. And then we used to go…
MCMAHON: They didn’t live with you, right?
PATTON: They lived in separate rooms on a different floor.
MCMAHON: Oh, but they did…
PATTON: They lived at the convent, yes.
MCMAHON: They were actually patients at St. Elizabeth’s?
PATTON: Well, I don’t know if they were actually patients but I think they came from St. Elizabeth’s. So, they were a step beyond the treatments.
MCMAHON: Oh, okay, like a halfway house.
PATTON: Halfway house. Acclimate them to, you know, new stuff and what’s going on. And we’d do their hair and their nails.
MCMAHON: Oh, interesting.
PATTON: Yeah. And we also used to go up to St. Ann’s. I don’t think St. Ann’s is still there.
MCMAHON: I think it is.
PATTON: Do they call it still Infant Home?
MCMAHON: Mm-hmm. [Started as a foundling home by Daughters of Charity in 1860, what is now called St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families has been in Hyattsville, MD since 1962. Charlene remembers the place where she volunteered several times a week being in NE Washington.]
PATTON: Because they changed it along in the years when it got, when society got a little more complex, that they would not adopt children out to just same sex couples, for instance. They wouldn’t do that. So, they were—But we still went there to take care—We would go over in the evening to help put the kids to bed. So…
MCMAHON: So, you did volunteer work around the city?
PATTON: Yes, yes.
MCMAHON: You didn’t just go out dancing.
PATTON: [Laughs] No. That was a big part of our lives.
PATTON: None of us smoked or drank or did any of those things. We were just good little Catholic girls. [Laughs] But we did like to rock and roll. So, I met some interesting guys there. Of course, back then I think the ratio was very heavily in the favor of girls. There were more girls. It had been that way for a long time. I don’t know, during the war years and beyond, how long that lasted. But…
MCMAHON: I think you told me when we talked earlier that you also were familiar with the places to visit in Southwest.
PATTON: Well, yeah, because we lived right there at [the border of] Southeast-Southwest.
PATTON: But mostly we spent our time downtown where the department stores were and the shopping and the rock and roll joints, I hate to call them but they were. And the men—they were boys—that we would meet would walk us home. So that’s when we said we don’t want them to know this is just a convent. This is when we gave it a spicier name. [Laughs]
MCMAHON: I’m going to ask you do you have a door open? Are we picking up some voices from out in the hallway?
PATTON: I think the TV’s on out there. I can just close this door.
MCMAHON: I think that would work better. [Sound of door closing]
PATTON: Is that better?
MCMAHON: Yes. Any distraction makes it harder to hear. Why don’t you tell about some of the rules at St. Catherine’s and the way you actually lived there.
PATTON: Well, some of those rules—and here we are paying rent. We were professional, we thought of ourselves as professional women working, but the nuns had a little tie on us. We had a chapel on the first floor, second floor. And they liked for us to go to 7:00 Mass. Well, that was about the time that we’d get up to go to work. And, on the weekends—one of the girls from California, the one that worked for Nixon, had a car. And did we put miles on that car! Because none of us had a car. So, when we left on the weekend to go, we would go to the park or barbecue, or just something, go to the zoo, we were not allowed to wear shorts out of the convent. We had to wear long dresses, covered up totally. No strapless [Laughs] or anything with straps. We had to dress like we were going to church. And here we are, nobody complained. Nobody said, wait a minute, you’re not our mother. [Interviewer laughs] But they were, in a sense.
MCMAHON: How much rent did you pay there?
PATTON: We paid—I still remember when they were turning them into condominiums a couple of years ago, just recently. I went by after Mass at St. Peter’s. I walked down and talked to the saleslady, the real estate lady, and said I’m one of the St. Catherine’s girls. She said, oh, was it really a place for wayward girls? [Interviewer laughs.] It was 40 years later and it stuck. I said no. I was a working girl along with the others. We just spiced up our … So, anyhow, she …
MCMAHON: You were going to tell what you paid in rent.
PATTON: Oh, 70—I told her, I said, Ann [?], I want to see my old room. I’d like to rent it again and I’d like to pay what I paid back then. Seventy-five dollars a month.
MCMAHON: A month. Oh.
PATTON: Two meals a day, dinner and breakfast, cooked like homemade cooks. They had a little kitchen there. They cooked our meals. And local women did the cooking and it was delicious. They could have run a little restaurant. So, $75 for two, that, for the whole …
MCMAHON: They cooked breakfast and dinner every day?
PATTON: Yes. Full (?) dinner.
PATTON: Yes. So, she laughed. She said, you actually paid $75 a month. I said I will remember that forever.
MCMAHON: Do you remember what the salary was in those days?
PATTON: Oh, heavens, yes. You know. But we, somehow or another, could afford what we needed. And life was very livable, so …
MCMAHON: Yes. You still had money left over to go dancing.
PATTON: Exactly. And we did not drink, so it was very cheap. We, I think, probably had to drink Coke or something. So, we stayed this lifestyle for a little over a year and then we decided to spread our wings and move up the street to a …. A woman was renting—She had three bedrooms. She was going to rent two of the bedrooms to working girls. So, here we go up to—Her name was Martha B. King. I still remember that. And she actually was cheaper than—We were saving money up there. I think it was more like 65. But it was spread out. There were four of us that moved in there. And it was interesting because it's just right up First, right now where the Republican National [Committee] headquarters is [310 First Street SE]. But the front door, that’s where her house was.
They were all small frame houses. They were not brick or anything. They were frame houses. Small. But they had three bedrooms. I guess they had large families then so they needed more bedrooms. So, the bedroom we were in was interesting. Putting clothes in the closet, there’s wallpaper in the closet and there was a loose flap of wallpaper. And I opened it and they had the date from 1840? What was it? ’60 something? The Civil War. They were—Civil War prisoners were being kept in that house during the Civil War. And when they papered over the wall, they left a flap of wallpaper so they didn’t wallpaper over the signatures.
MCMAHON: Somebody had an interest in history then to know enough to make that available.
PATTON: Yeah, exactly.
MCMAHON: That’s wonderful.
PATTON: Yeah, they kept …
MCMAHON: So, these were Confederate soldiers?
PATTON: No. These were with the Confederacy up north (?). They were Southern.
PATTON: They were from the South.
PATTON: That’s the Confederacy.
MCMAHON: So, Confederates that were ….
PATTON: That’s right.
MCMAHON: … prisoners. Yeah.
PATTON: They were Confederate prisoners. And the owner of the house had, digging up this small little yard, no bigger than this room, in the back, they had found jewelry where the prisoners had hidden the jewelry and escaped—They disappeared. They went somewhere and left the jewelry in her garden. So …
PATTON: So, I said, we have nothing to do, let’s go dig in the garden. So, yeah, it was about a hundred years after the Civil War that we were renting there.
MCMAHON: Right. And, of course, subsequently those houses were torn down when they built the ...
PATTON: So, the wallpaper with the names of the guys got …
PATTON: Gone. Everything gone.
MCMAHON: Right, right.
PATTON: Only we remember. And I did not think back then to write the names. Or whoever saw Google coming where you could Google these names …
PATTON: … and find out the history.
MCMAHON: Nowadays, you would take a picture with your phone.
PATTON: I purposely [?] don’t have one of those phones. I had one for one week my grandson gave me. He kept up to date on telephones. So, he gave me his old one. He bought the new safe (?) version. I had it for one week. Every time I answered, they would disconnect. My cheek was touching the phone. [Both laugh] I said if I had to rebuild my body to use this phone—I mean for all these years I’ve been answering a phone like this—No more. And I said I don’t need a computer carrying it with me everywhere I go. So, I went back to flip phones. All these …
MCMAHON: If you’re just using it to talk, that’s fine.
PATTON: Call, that’s it. Call and receive calls. That’s it.
PATTON: And then they try to add a few fancy—But I never caught on to the cell phone. But everybody I know has one, so you can just ask them anything. Like here, all the young girls that work here, the nursing staff, they all have smart phones. So, they know every—If you don’t know it, ask them. They’ll look it up.
MCMAHON: Well, so you were in the 300 block of First Street SE, which is now across from the Capitol South Metro escalator.
PATTON: Exactly. The main door of the Republican headquarters, not the club, the office, was exactly where our house would have been. Where the door of the headquarters was exactly where our little house was.
MCMAHON: Do you remember what the address was?
PATTON: I have it written down if you want me to get it.
MCMAHON: The number.
PATTON: Yes, I do. I actually wrote it down. I should have brought it in. Let me grab it. [Pause while she locates address; background talking goes on.] It’s 310 …
PATTON: First Street SE.
MCMAHON: Okay. That’s good to know. Maybe we can find it on an old map.
PATTON: Well, I unfortunately had photos, sitting on that front porch, me and with the girls. But it was all left in my home in Washington when I moved to assisted living. None of all that came with me. So. I still have all those pictures but I can’t get to them because they’re at my daughter’s house.
MCMAHON: Well, maybe we can work with her and retrieve some. It would be very interesting to …
PATTON: And I have pictures of the old St. Catherine’s, of the front door.
MCMAHON: Oh. That’d be wonderful.
PATTON: Of my sister, my mother, and I in front of the building. It used to be the main, you used to go up to the—Second floor was the main door where they had steps going out both ways to the door. That door that was there is now a window.
They took that porch and put it down at ground level.
MCMAHON: I see.
PATTON: So, there’s no more steps that go up like that. So, in the picture I have with me and my mother and sister were the steps going up both sides. So.
MCMAHON: It would be very interesting if we could find …
PATTON: Well, I know exactly where they are if I could get to my daughter’s house.
MCMAHON: Okay. Well.
PATTON: But I filed my pictures. I took them all out of albums and put them all in—I went to Michael’s and got acid free photo boxes.
MCMAHON: Very good.
PATTON: And put everything by the year. So, I can always remember the year. I can’t always remember the occasion. So, all the—Before I was married, all those pictures are there. And, then, I think St. Catherine’s would be that. So, I haven’t …
MCMAHON: Good for you. That’s—Why don’t we talk—you must have met your husband while you were living on First Street?
PATTON: Yes, I did. And I met him, actually, at St. Catherine’s on a Sunday evening. There were some of the girls and I had gone out to dinner at the Hot Shoppes. Remember the Hot Shoppes?
MCMAHON: Of course.
PATTON: [Laughs] So, we had gone there for dinner, came back at about 7:00. And the girls that were there said glad you’re back. We have three guys—four Marines from Quantico Marine Base out here that we’re trying to match up. I said never been on a blind date, never going on one. So, I went. [Laughs] And the rest is history.
MCMAHON: The rest is history. What was his name?
PATTON: His name—Dan Patton.
PATTON: Dan Patton.
PATTON: And right behind me is our wedding picture.
MCMAHON: Lovely. Nice.
MCMAHON: Now I know that you, once you were married—you were married when?
MCMAHON: Did you get married in Washington or at home?
PATTON: No, we planned my wedding at home in Pennsylvania.
PATTON: He was in the Marines, in the Officer’s School. So, we moved to Quantico and—When we got back from the wedding and all that, we moved to Quantico. And from there we saw the world. He ended up—His last job was at the World Trade Center. And my first job was at the Pentagon, both of which were bombed on the same day.
MCMAHON: Of course. Wow.
PATTON: Long after he had retired.
MCMAHON: From the Marines? He had retired from the Marines?
MCMAHON: And then you told me, I think, that he worked—for Department of the Interior, was it?
PATTON: He did. Bureau of Land Management. And he was an oceanographer and geologist. So, he mostly worked for oil companies. And he worked for the Department of Interior [as a geologist and oceanographer examining] the outer bank where they could drill for oil and where they couldn’t. And they did the mapping for under seas. So, he traveled a lot.
MCMAHON: Well, I know you told me you lived in different places.
PATTON: Oh, we lived out from Alaska …
MCMAHON: You want to just briefly mention where those then— By this time you had children?
PATTON: Oh, yes. We lived in Silver Spring, Maryland. And I still wish we had not moved. We moved from there to Anchorage, Alaska, with his job. To the oil pipeline up there. He was working on that. So, we moved to Alaska. They were at St. Bernadette’s [School] in Silver Spring for six years and then we moved up to Alaska and they had to go from Catholic school to public school in Anchorage. Well, my daughter was in eighth grade. She went into school a half hour early every day to tutor her teacher. [Interviewer laughs] He was—He came to work in hiking boots, a ski jacket, ready to hit the slopes and to teach school. So, he did not know where Avon on Stratford was. And so, my daughter had to go in and show him and that started her unpaid tutoring job. She was tutoring her teachers.
So, we decided we couldn’t stay there very long. So, we stayed just a couple of years to enjoy the skiing and the beauty of Alaska. And then we moved back to the East Coast. So, I said Anchorage was a lot like the Wild West. You went there and that’s where you went to go underground if you wanted to hide out. And the Mafia always—well, the Mafia follows the prostitutes who follow the workers on the pipeline.
MCMAHON: Oh, oh.
PATTON: There was a lot of prostitution. [Laughs]
MCMAHON: Well. So, did you come back to D.C. right away when you …
PATTON: We came back to D.C. from New York. And I said we’re going right back to D.C. where I started. I loved it there. And we came back, bought a house on Lincoln Park and lived there from 1980 until I moved. We sold the house last year. And I miss it every day.
MCMAHON: So, you were here for another 20 years after you … Had your husband retired by then?
PATTON: No. He still worked. But it was wonderful because he could take the Metro, the train, the Metro from Eastern Market and I worked at the Library of Congress during those years. So, I could walk to work.
MCMAHON: Ah, yes.
PATTON: I loved it there. I really loved everything about it. Even the crime got too terrible that—because there was pretty high crime when we moved there. But we knew how to survive and how to stay safe. So …
MCMAHON: Did your daughters ever live—were they gone by the time you moved back to Lincoln Park?
PATTON: They were high school and college. And my son. I had a son. He passed in 2015 from surgery. So. I can’t even talk about it. But they were college age. So, they graduated from college and got married while we lived there.
MCMAHON: I see.
PATTON: We were there from, what, from ’80 to —it was ’80, ’90. I think we were there 34 years. [Charlene lived across from Lincoln Park, at 1230 North Carolina Avenue NE, for 41 years, 1980–2021.]
MCMAHON: Oh, oh.
PATTON: Long, long time.
MCMAHON: Would have been. Did your daughters go to, did your children go to school locally?
PATTON: No. One was out of college, one was in college, and she went to Texas A & M where my husband, her husband, my son, my daughter, everybody went to Texas A & M.
MCMAHON: I see.
PATTON: And then my daughter got married and they were living with us and they had a baby. My grandson Charlie, who is the genius of the computer. And he went to St. Peter’s School.
MCMAHON: Oh, he did?
MCMAHON: Very good.
MCMAHON: Yeah. Still going strong.
PATTON: Yeah. We were very embedded in Capitol Hill. So, I remember they used to have the calliope on Easter, coming from—Jill, her name was Jill Anderson. She worked at the Library of Congress. She was also an orchestra director. And she used to provide us with music a lot in our neighborhood of Lincoln Park. So, it was a very wonderful place to live.
MCMAHON: Sometimes I have been in conversations with people who remember those Easter parades and the calliope.
PATTON: Oh, yeah.
MCMAHON: And you’re telling us who it is that was running that?
PATTON: Her name was Jill Anderson—Jillian. She lived up in the 1300 block of North Carolina.
PATTON: She worked at the Library of Congress. But she was the one that got the calliope and all the music together all the time.
MCMAHON: Was she part of St. Mark’s Church?
PATTON: You know, I think she was.
MCMAHON: Because some of us remember, I remember those parades and the Morris dancers that danced in the middle of Lincoln Park.
PATTON: Oh, yes, yes.
MCMAHON: And I thought it might have been St. Mark’s that was sort of the leader of that.
PATTON: I think you’re right. I think Jill did go to St. Mark’s. You mean down behind the Library of Congress.
MCMAHON: That’s right.
PATTON: Yeah. On Second or Third Street.
MCMAHON: Yeah. Third and A.
MCMAHON: Southeast, yes.
PATTON: I think you might be right there.
MCMAHON: Now, we have—I came upon a picture a while ago of that, I think it was that parade or something to do with St. Mark’s.
MCMAHON: What other organizations were you involved in during those 40 years that you lived here?
PATTON: I wasn’t too involved. I mostly [was] involved in small election, you know, working at the polls and helping out at the polls for different candidates. I worked for them. But I tried to keep myself not so much involved in the community. I was so busy cleaning up the neighborhood. [Both laugh]
MCMAHON: Well, that’s being involved in the community.
PATTON: Well, I actually met Marion Barry on the bus one morning. I was going to the Library. I didn’t know when I first moved there that [it was] a 20 minute walk to the Library of Congress. I used to get the bus down to the Supreme Court. And I get on the bus and who’s there but Marion Barry. And he said, well—and he’s very chatty, a very nice guy. Very social, he wants to be social. So, he said how are you liking the neighborhood? I said, well, I’d like to have some trash pickup. He said what do you mean? I said, the neighbors all take their trash to the corner in bags and put it on the street at the corner. He said here, in this neighborhood? I said yes. They’re out today. So, he said, well, I’ll have to look into that. Before you knew it, we had trash pickup.
PATTON: We had trash pickup.
MCMAHON: So, he was already mayor at that point.
PATTON: He was mayor.
PATTON: Yeah. So, he said we’ll look into that. Well, he did. And it stopped. And then they started sweeping the street. And then they started cleaning out the park. So, that was a valuable meeting I had with him because he really looked into the neighborhood and found out what all—And then there was a lot of crime in Lincoln Park back then. You wouldn’t go to there at night or even in the daytime because you had a lot of people hanging out there. So, it was a different place.
MCMAHON: That was a drug era, I think.
PATTON: Yeah. It was.
MCMAHON: What did you do at the Library of Congress?
PATTON: I actually started out working for Ann Hallstein who lived down on Sixth Street. She has since moved. She became an Episcopalian minister and lives in Connecticut now with her partner. But she was wonderful. And I worked there. And, then, she got me promoted up, up, up and up to the Librarian’s office. So, I worked for the Librarian. And when Barbara Sakamoto, his secretary, had breast cancer, I took her job until she was well. So, I used to get detailed up to the Librarian’s office a lot.
MCMAHON: So, you were in secretarial positions?
PATTON: In administrative, yes.
MCMAHON: In administrative.
MCMAHON: And that is how you started at the Pentagon, too? In a clerical …
PATTON: When I what?
MCMAHON: When you started at the Pentagon, was that …
PATTON: Oh, yeah. Yes, clerical, yes.
MCMAHON: Clerical, yeah.
PATTON: But when I started out the Pentagon was five rings. And the small ring was where the—The lower the rank the smaller the ring. So, I started in A ring and ended up in E [the outside ring, where the highest ranking officers were located].
MCMAHON: Oh, good. That’s
PATTON: That’s where all the generals were. So, I caught on quick. So, yeah. In fact, the Librarian, when they retired, Dr. Billington …
MCMAHON: Who was the Librarian at that time?
PATTON: Boorstin [12th Librarian of Congress 1975-1987 Daniel J. Boorstin] when I first went there and Billington [13th Librarian of Congress 1987-2015 James Hadley Billington] came. He was maybe the last five, ten years. But, he said, she was our one woman SWAT team. [Laughs] I said, I don’t know how to take that. He said, meaning before we knew it, it was already done.
MCMAHON: Very good.
fPATTON: Yeah. So.
MCMAHON: That’s what bosses like.
PATTON: [Laughs] Yeah. So. Anyhow, I loved the Library. I loved everything about it.
MCMAHON: Well, you seem to have made good friends in your neighborhood. One of them is the person who recommended you to us.
PATTON: Oh, Ann … because she [Ann Hallstein] said, “I’ll never forget your interview.” She said, “what would you say if I didn’t hire you?” “I would say the biggest mistake you’ve made this year.” She said, “That did it. [Laughs] I hired you on the spot.” She said, “You knew what you wanted.”
MCMAHON: Very good.
PATTON: But then, after about six months, she said you’re way more talented than here. So, she pushed me upstairs.
MCMAHON: Did you work in the Madison Building?
PATTON: I worked—all my years were in the Madison Building. Yeah.
MCMAHON: So, you were right back at First and C.
PATTON: That was my neighborhood.
PATTON: Where they tore down all the houses, that’s where I ended up.
MCMAHON: Those houses were already gone before you lived on First Street.
PATTON: Yes. I think they were, yeah. Because the building—When we moved back in ’79, ’80, the Madison Building was in the process of being built. And the Jefferson, of course, has always been there since Lincoln years. I always wanted to work in the Jefferson Building. I love that building.
MCMAHON: It’s so beautiful.
PATTON: I know. The Great Hall—going into that. It’s so special just walking into it. Yeah.
MCMAHON: Let me go back again though. You lived in the 300 block of First in 1960.
MCMAHON: So, those buildings …
PATTON: Those houses were still …
MCMAHON: Those buildings were still there then, right? All those two blocks that were torn down for the Madison Building.
PATTON: Yes. And I knew they were gone because up on Pennsylvania—They started on Pennsylvania Avenue, I think, and worked down. Because I was still there in ’60 at the old house.
PATTON: What was that—3-1-0 or 3- ?
MCMAHON: That’s what you said, yes. 310.
PATTON: 310. So, we were still living there in ’60, so they hadn’t torn those down yet.
MCMAHON: Did you ever eat in any of the restaurants that were along …
PATTON: Oh, yeah.
MCMAHON: … Independence there?
PATTON: We used to hang out at one that we liked a whole lot. Something—It was Mike Palm’s, maybe.
MCMAHON: Yes, that was there.
PATTON: Yeah. That was one of our favorite hangouts.
MCMAHON: So, you weren’t getting meals when you lived at …
PATTON: No. ? We had to cook. And we got a discount on our rent, but then we had to cook.
MCMAHON: Well, I have heard that that’s why there were so many restaurants up there is because so many people did live in rooming houses …
MCMAHON: … that didn’t supply meals.
MCMAHON: And, so, there were a lot of busy restaurants.
PATTON: Yeah. And, in fact, here, in this institution where I’m living, it’s called Bishop’s Glen, this assisted living community. And one of the women that is here also lived, had family who lived right in that block where the Republican headquarters [is]. She had family that lived in that block.
PATTON: [She said] I still remember First Street Southeast. I said that’s where it was. And she said there was a little grocery store across the street, across First Street, on the corner of E and—I don’t know what street that would be.
MCMAHON: That’s C there.
PATTON: Yeah. But, a little grocery store, Louie’s [?]. The door was at the corner.
PATTON: The building is still there, but she remembered that grocery store.
MCMAHON: Oh, okay. So, maybe you are talking—if it’s a building that’s still there, I guess it would be D Street.
PATTON: Yeah. The building is still there.
MCMAHON: The other end of the block.
PATTON: At the corner, across the street from the Metro.
MCMAHON: Okay. The Metro elevator.
PATTON: Whatever street goes all the way to—it comes from St. Peter’s Church all the way. So, I just don’t know what street that St. Peter’s is on.
MCMAHON: St. Peter’s is on Second and C.
PATTON: Yeah. Okay, then it was C that went all the way because I’d go over. Everything you had to do was at the motor vehicle place over on—What’s that street you had to go to get your license and inspection and …
MCMAHON: Hmm. I’m not sure where you mean.
PATTON: Well, my memory is not what it used to be.
MCMAHON: Well, I think it’s wonderful. You’re remembering a lot. I’m having a little trouble picking up the sound, but it’s…
MCMAHON: … we’ll have to work on that later.
PATTON: Yeah. Well, maybe they have a fine tuner somewhere.
MCMAHON: Well, do you have any other memories you would like to share?
PATTON: Well, I do, but not necessarily of Capitol Hill which is—when we finally were going to settle at the last move, I told my husband we are going back to Capitol Hill where I started. I loved it there and never fell out of love with it.
MCMAHON: That’s wonderful.
PATTON: And he did not like it at all. But I said, you know, basically we moved to Alaska, we moved to Texas, we moved to New York. You got your way how many times? I’m asking once. [Laughs]
MCMAHON: So, he did it.
PATTON: Well, he had a lot of advantages because he could walk to the Metro and take the Metro. And on those snowy days when everybody was stuck going home, he’d get on the Metro and come home.
MCMAHON: Oh, yeah.
PATTON: So, that’s a lot. Then, when we sold the house last year—We sold it right before all this inflation came, picked the perfect time to sell. And sold it for, I mean, 40, 50 times what we ever thought we would sell it. And I thought, well, are you smiling up there? [Both laugh]
MCMAHON: When did your husband pass away?
PATTON: He died in ’03.
PATTON: He had a stroke. He had a severe stroke. I mean, I’ve had six strokes and that’s why I’m here. But not much damage. My balance is a little off. But he had a severe, one big stroke and was hospitalized almost a whole year. And, so, when he came home from the hospital, they wanted to put him in a nursing home. I said no, I’m taking care of him. So, I did. I took care of him at the Lincoln Park house. So, took care of him for five years.
MCMAHON: Oh, my.
PATTON: But, then, he had another stroke. So, he died.
MCMAHON: That’s not easy in a Capitol Hill row house.
PATTON: Well, we had a—I made it easy because we had an English basement.
PATTON: And it was perfect because it was three steps down that I could help him down. I could help him walk. He just couldn’t stand up.
PATTON: And I had the whole downstairs set up for him.
PATTON: Bathroom, the hospital bed, everything, set up for him. So, it’s only that I had to walk him down the steps a lot. But I did that anyhow. So, that’s one reason I had to sell my house. Because I could no longer do those steps.
MCMAHON: Yes, yeah. I understand.
MCMAHON: Well, you had a good life here.
PATTON: I really, really did. In fact, I would go back tomorrow but my girls have moved me down here because I have a daughter that lives down here. So, she’s my contact. And my other daughter lives in Chantilly in Fairfax County [Virginia]. And she’s an attorney up there. So, she says you can come back here if you want. But I thought, well, it’s not the same.
MCMAHON: No, moving back to Chantilly wouldn’t be the same. [Laughs]
PATTON: No, no. So, I’m here and this place is a very nice place. But I don’t like the lifestyle.
MCMAHON: It’s hard.
PATTON: Any independent person would like to, you know—living under some kind of constraints. So.
MCMAHON: Back to St. Catherine’s. [Both laugh]
PATTON: But I enjoyed St. Catherine’s a whole lot more. Yeah.
MCMAHON: Well, I thank you for doing this with us. We’re …
PATTON: I’m happy to share my experiences. It was a different time but I enjoyed every day of it there.
MCMAHON: That’s wonderful.
MCMAHON: I’m sure your neighbors miss you.
PATTON: Well, I had—One of the girls, Ann, the one who was a very timid little lady that everybody thought she must be from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, I was from Manhattan.
MCMAHON: You had a Manhattan style.
PATTON: I don’t know. Everybody assumed. So, I called her after I talked to you and the other lady. What’s her name?
MCMAHON: Joanna [Kendig]?
PATTON: Yeah, Joanna. I talked to Ann, my friend. She still lives in D.C. on Thomas Circle in a residential nursing home. I asked her if she wanted to be part of this [oral history project] and she said oh, Charlie—they always called me Charlie. So, she said I don’t remember a thing about St. Catherine’s. She said I know you remember everything but, she said, I don’t remember hardly ever living there. So, which I don’t think was true, but it was, she didn’t want to do it. So.
MCMAHON: Let me ask one more question I should have asked way back in the beginning. Did each of you have a separate room there at St. Catherine’s?
PATTON: We did. And when I went back to tell them I wanted to rent the room that I used to have, but for the same rent, [Interviewer laughs] she laughed. But she said we’re still working on it, so it’s available. She took me up to see it. It was huge. And I thought it’s like one room …
MCMAHON: That had been your room?
PATTON: Yes, and they were turning it into a condo with a kitchenette, a separate bathroom—because we had one bathroom in the hall that we all shared.
MCMAHON: I thought you probably shared a bath, yes.
PATTON: Well, we did. But now, with the condo, I think they put showers in. But they were big enough to have a condo out of just one what we called the bedroom.
MCMAHON: They’re building very small condos now. So, I believe it.
PATTON: I would love to go back and look at it now that it’s a condo to see what they did. But …
MCMAHON: If I ever see a listing for one when they’re selling it, I’ll send you the link and you can look at pictures.
PATTON: [Laughs] I would love that. I would love that.
MCMAHON: Well, this was a unique story, I thought. I had never even known that that had been a rooming house, boarding house really.
MCMAHON: So, when Joanna first told me about …
PATTON: She found out—Phil Smith, my neighbor …
PATTON: … which we still talk on the phone. But I was telling him when they were turning them into condos that I was going to go there to look at my old room. That’s when I told him about it being a place for working girls. And then he told Joanna that it used to be a convent, because I had told him. So, it wasn’t very well known that it was there. Yeah.
MCMAHON: Well, that was a new story and I’ve been working on this project for 21 years. [Interviewee laughs] So, when I hear a story that I’ve never heard before …
PATTON: Never heard before.
MCMAHON: … I really want to do it.
PATTON: There are probably more out there, too. So.
MCMAHON: So, I thank you very much.
PATTON: Well, I thank you, too. And it was very nice meeting you.
MCMAHON: Nice to meet you.
PATTON: …reliving a happy past. So.
MCMAHON: We’ll be back in touch when we are …
PATTON: Did you want my address?
MCMAHON: I’ll tell you what. I’m going to stop the recording now and then you can tell—I won’t stop the session.
PATTON: Oh, okay.
PATTON: All right.
MCMAHON: So, let me do this. [Stopped recording the Zoom session]
END OF INTERVIEW